The Voice Exchange – Denmark Audio

A little late, but here are some initial recordings from a parallel walk to our Toronto campus walk, this one taking place at Aarhus University, Denmark. We have three recorded audio tracks from three different spaces, across the globe, but similar in qualities. In a reading room, as at the UofT libraries, we hear the sounds of zippers, footsteps, doors opening, and general shuffling. At the university park, we hear again the sound of birds, passing conversations, cars driving, and outdoor footsteps. And in an outdoor walk between libraries, we again hear wind, the sound of cars passing (which sound more like planes), some birds, and a beeping traffic signal.

Without the sound of people and the languages that can locate them geographically, it is difficult to distinguish the audio between the parallel spaces. The bird call in the University Park or the traffic signal on the outdoor walk could perhaps be used to narrow the geography, as they are distinct from those found in Toronto, but this is not immediately evident. Even when voices and language are present, we have seen that they can fool the listeners, as the Toronto campus has many international students (including our own Danish recorder). It is primarily in listening to the smaller details of the audio tracks that one can realize the fundamental differences between the Toronto and Aarhus tracks.

Aarhus University Park

Aarhus Reading Room

Aarhus University Park

Outdoor Walk Between Aarhus Libraries


The Ghost Variations – Featured Spaces 4

Just a little aside – Those following this blog thread may be interested to see Theatre Complicite’s The Encounter, streaming free until March 8th on their youtube channel. The theatre production, performed at the Barbican, uses binaural sound, and effectively uses many of the techniques we’ve discussed in this thread to confuse the spectator, particularly in terms of time, as past, present, and future become increasingly intertwined.

Onto this week’s blog post, where we are featuring the last two spaces from our walking tour. These include the walk from Knox College to Fisher Library, and inside the Fisher Library.

The walk to Fisher Library is the noisiest track on the tour. The walker-listener steps out of the relatively quiet Knox College and walks up the St George St sidewalk, usually quite busy when the university is open, accompanied by a regular stream of traffic. Multiple conversations are picked up, as well as wind, and the whizzing and squeaking of cars. It’s one of the few spaces where enough sound is present to drown out the surrounding footsteps. The beeping of crosswalk signals is recorded, and was ghosted into other tracks along the tour. Of all the tracks along the walk, Variation 1 of the walk to Fisher Library is perhaps the most confusing (or unnerving) to listen to while actually going on the walk, as one can easily be overwhelmed by the doubled-up sound (from both the track and real-time sounds), or else disoriented by the mixed traffic signals that ordinarily one uses to walk safely outside.

Finishing at Fisher Library offers a refuge from the noise outside. A tower visible throughout campus, the daunting exterior brutalist architecture gives way to a more contemporary look on the inside. As mentioned in the second week, the typically quiet space was disrupted by the presence of a Shakespeare lecture. The space also features a low hum, likely from an air conditioning or humidifying system. As the walking space is fairly limited in the library (and also carpeted), the sound of people and clothes shuffling registers more than in the reverberating corridors that picked up footsteps better. There are also various jangles, beeping, whispering, and the turnstyle, which we mentioned previously. Ending at the library, one can sit and recall the first library where the tour began. Both spaces have similar rules and conventions, but other than that are quite different. The small, single-level Hart House Library is more of a study area than information resource. The multi-storey Fisher Library, on the other hand, is far more institutionalized, featuring more walls, and protective features for the old and rare books. Where Hart House induced a sense of calm and quiet relaxation, the Fisher Library, with its increased protection measures and sense of fragility, instills a feeling of quiet caution and heightened awareness of self and space.


Walk to Fisher – Variation 1

Fisher Library – Variation 1


The Walk to Fisher Library
The Walk to Fisher Library
The Brutalist Architecture of Fisher Library
The Brutalist Architecture of Fisher Library

The Ghost Variations – Featured Spaces 3

This week’s post features the two spaces that are part of Knox College. Both are quiet spaces – the Chapel and the inner courtyard. The college also has a library of its own, but we opted not to use it as a space on the walk, as it would have been too many quiet locations in one area.

Knox college is a theological college, affiliated with the Presbyterian church. It’s for this reason that the building has its own chapel, and, as with any chapel, one expects certain codes of conduct within the space. Similar to the library spaces, one can become acutely aware the moment one steps into the space of a difference in expectation – as if the stillness of the air itself works to slow and pacify your body, so that it blends with the calmer pace and keeps the space undisturbed. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, we were surprised with our encounters with the chapel, as, for two of three recordings, a student was discovered playing piano in the space. Music is one of the few forms of sound that is allowed to permeate the space with any level of volume, and it dominates the recording, drowning out footsteps and other minor shuffling. We used the beautiful music within a number of our tracks, ghosting in the unwitting student’s impromptu performance. Listeners may also recognize that we ghosted in the student who apologizes early in the recording into the Hart House space.

Not too far from the chapel, one can find Knox College’s inner courtyard. The garden sanctuary, protected by stone walls, is even more peaceful than the green space outside the UC building. One can still hear the distant sounds of cars and traffic, but they barely hinder one’s ability to hear birds in the garden. It is one of the quietest tracks we recorded (and still it couldn’t qualify as silence). One can hear the recorder walking around the garden over twigs, the gentle opening and closing of the outside doors, as well as the rustling of trees in the wind. In Variation 2, various bangs and the sound of the doors from the very same track are repeated, to give the space a noisier feel. The sound of birds is repeated, playing again with the sense of deja vu. It is also doubled at one point, cloning the ghostly creatures in the space. The only external sound incorporated in Variation 2 is the double-sneeze we adopted to signal the end of a track.

Knox Chapel – Variation 1

Knox Garden – Variation 1

Knox Garden – Variation 2


Knox College

The Ghost Variations – Featured Spaces 2

The next two spaces on the audio walk to be looked at this week include the University College building, and the green space just in front of it.

The University College building features a number of similar characteristics as the Hart House building. In the raw recording of the first variation, one can again hear the outside wind before the walker enters the building. The building features a number a entrances and exits throughout it, and this causes wind to register multiple times throughout the recording, as well as sirens from outside. Also, as in Hart House, the sonorous corridors makes the sound of footsteps predominant throughout the recording, including both horizontal and vertical traveling feet, as there are many staircases throughout the building. As before, the ‘two-dimensionality’ of the recordings creates confusion between sets of footsteps, as more weight (and therefore sound) is often used in climbing stairs.

During our recordings in the UC College building, we again ended up with segmented portions of sound, including a lecture on the socio-economic situation of Paris in the 21st century and a conversation in Chinese, different sections of which were picked up in different recordings. The lecture is one of the few clues the listener can hear that gives him or her an idea of the function of the space. We thus used it in a few modified variations to confuse the listener, and also create a sense of deja-vu.

Just outside the UC Building is the large UC Green area, which is generally empty, and relatively peaceful compared with other parts of Toronto’s downtown core. During events, however, the space can be filled with thousands of students, making it a rather noisy place. Our recordings were made on a more typical, quiet day. They feature similar elements as the indoor spaces – footsteps, conversations, the sound of sirens (one wouldn’t think this is typical, but they were picked up consistently in the previous spaces), and the occasional brush of the wind. Being outdoors, the quality of the footsteps is altered by the different terrain, and the lack of walls that reverberate the sound indoors. Voices also sound further, and unique to the outdoor landscape is the sound of birds.

In variation three of the UC green space, additional outdoor traffic has been added. Ghosts from other spaces are carried into the UC green through echoed conversations, including snippets from the Paris lecture and Chinese conversation inside the UC building. The sound of birds is also repeated. The additional voices makes it difficult to ascertain which beings were originally present – the original ghosts, or the artificially inserted imposters. Unusual to the space is the addition of a turnstyle sound from the Fisher library, which is is confusing in the outdoor setting. Like the Paris lecture, a turnstyle provides a more concrete clue as to the function of a space. Used to control human traffic, one expects to hear them in metro stations or amusement parks, but to hear them in a relatively calm green area confounds the nature of the space.

UC Building – Variation 1

UC Green – Variation 1

UC Green – Variation 3


The UC Building and Green Space in Front
The UC Building and Green Space in Front

The Ghost Variations – Featured Spaces 1

Over each of the following four weeks, we will examine in detail two spaces we focused on for the walking tour. The first two walking spaces we work with on our walking tour are both found in the Hart House Building. The first is the library and the second are its corridors.

The Hart House library is a relatively small one as far as libraries go. More a study area than anything else, it’s usually fairly busy during business hours, and quieter (but not closed) on evenings and weekends. Our recording was made on a typical weekday, when there was average activity. We ambled throughout the space, and sat if we liked. In a library setting, one is more aware of sounds in the space than in other locations, as loud noises may disrupt other people. The function of the space dictated the way we moved through it. In the library, we stepped quietly through its various nooks and crannies, often hugging the walls and bookshelves to avoid drawing attention. In the original, unedited Variation 1 one hears the transition from the noisy corridor as the recorder-walker steps into the library. Even within the library, the buffered echo of loud conversations in the Hart House hallways remains. In the library itself, one can hear pages turning, a computer typing, general shuffling, and the floor creaking. One also hears a car running, another backing up, as well as the sound of sirens, confusing the inside and outside spaces. In Variation 3, cars passing (recorded from the walk from Knox College to Fisher Library) are included, and further add to the confusion. Variation 1 also includes a student sneezing twice, which we would later use as an artificial indicator for the end of each track. In Variation 3 of the space, one hears the library’s radiator, though it was taken from a separate recording, intermixing the two walkers’ physical journeys.

Stepping out into our second space, the Hart House corridors, we noted the liminal space in-between the library’s quietness and the noise of the corridors. The doorway transitions us from one noise quality and level to another. The corridors in Hart House are quite sonorous, as sound easily echoes back and forth along the stone walls. This can make it quite loud in contrast to the peaceful library setting – unless it is a quiet day, in which case the quietest sounds can reverberate far throughout the building. On the day of the initial recording, the hallways were generally quite busy, but there were quieter areas. In contrast to the library, voices are much more present in the spaces, which aren’t governed by rules of silence. One also hears general bangs and thuds, as well as the clinking of plates as the recorder-walker passes a restaurant. Again, sirens can be heard in the distance. There is also a quieter moment, as the walker enters a small chapel within Hart House – another area with designated lower volume levels. Towards the end of the track, one can hear a phone ringing and various footsteps. There are also snippets of a conversation, which can make one conjure the speaker’s face, and perhaps even the beginnings of a narrative. At the end of the track, one can hear the sound of recorded wind, as the walker approaches another liminal space – the entrance to Hart House. In Variation 3 of the Hart House corridors, we deliberately played with volume levels, making one question whether the volume of a space was actually getting quieter. There is also repeated laughter, to evoke a sense of deja-vu in the listener, who must guess whether they are two distinct instances, or whether one is a flashback (or flashforward) to the ghost of another. An excerpt of piano music from the Knox Chapel is played, bringing in the ghostly presence of other spaces. Similarly, an artificially placed “Oh, Sorry!” and the sound of birds makes the listener conjure beings from other spaces. In editing the minute details for the tracks, we recollected some of Philip Glass’ works, in which sometimes only through acute listening can one distinguish changes in each variation.


Hart House Library – Variation 1

Hart House Library – Variation 3

Hart House Corridors – Variation 1

Hart House Corridors – Variation 3



Hart House Library
Audio Helps Conjure the Ghosts of Student Bodies in an Otherwise Empty Hart House Library


A 2nd Floor Hart House Corridor on a Quiet Day
A 2nd Floor Hart House Corridor on a Quiet Day

The Ghost Variations – Concept

Once we had all the recordings completed, we sat down together to listen to what we’d collected and to discuss how we’d use the material. We listened to each of the three sets of five minute recordings for each space, considering how we might intermix noise and silence in an attempt to disorient the listener.

There were two features that struck us about the recordings in each space. The first was that already one could feel disoriented by simply listening to an individual recording. The first space, for example, the Hart House Library, is presumably a quiet area. But one could easily confound the space with a number of locations. In the recording, one hears sounds that are expected of a university library, such as pages turning, whispering voices, and computers typing away. But there are other sounds as well that make identifying the location difficult. A radiator that normally one doesn’t register when walking into the space, for instance, can be heard tapping quite loudly.

The sound of the wooden floor creaking underfoot also disrupted any possibility of silence in the room. When walking close to the library window, the sound of sirens outside easily registered, making it possible for one to imagine the recording was made outdoors.

The second feature that intrigued us about the recordings were the distinct differences between recordings made within a single space, even though the recordings took place just five minutes apart from one another. This was most notable in the Knox College chapel. A normally quiet location – and certainly relatively quiet during the last recording – the chapel was initially (and unexpectedly) filled with the beautiful sound of a piano being played by a student. Two different sections of the same music piece can be heard in the first two recordings, while there is no piano in the third. Completely by accident, we surreptitiously captured the private, impromptu performance for all the world to hear.

Contrary to the differences between recordings, sometimes the audio continued over a longer duration, throughout all three recordings, giving them more unity. This was the case in the Hart House hallways, as we each passed the same busy restaurant; at University College, as we each passed an on-going lecture about the social history of life in Paris, as well as a pair of students conversing in Chinese; or as we each stumbled across the Shakespeare lecture (referenced in a previous blog post). These fragments of both completely different and repeating sections of audio over time inspired us to work around the idea of ghosting a space through audio – walking through a space in present time, while listening to the ghostly voices and sounds of time past.

We weren’t satisfied with simply replaying a single layer of audio, however. In hearing the different recordings from each space, we decided to create several variations for each location. We decided upon the following five variations:

Variation 1: A single layer unedited audio recording from the space;

Variation 2: Multiple layers of audio recording taken over three passes from the same space;

Variation 3: Multiple layers of audio taken from all spaces along the whole walk;

Variation 4: Multiple layers of audio taken from all spaces of the walk, as well audio from spaces not included on the walk;

Variation 5: Following the walk without any recorded audio.

In addition to playing with disorienting the audience and conjuring ghostly narratives of past lives in the mind of the listener, we also aimed to heighten the listener’s awareness of sound in a space with the variations. Normally, one isn’t particularly aware of the audio of a location, and even less so when a space or walk is visited or repeated regularly. However, it is precisely through repetition – in listening to the small differences in detail between each variation – that we hope to increase the listener’s awareness of the audio in the space as they listen to recordings, and perhaps even after, as the listener revisits a space without any audio recording whatsoever.

In the following weeks, we will look at the audio variations created for different spaces along the walk, and look at some of the differences in detail between them.

The Ghost Variations – Technical Gear

We used three different portable audio technologies to make the walk recordings. These included:

  • an Olympus LS-14 music recorder;
  • a Zoom H4n portable audio Recorder;
  • an iPhone 4.

The first two pieces of gear are professional audio recorders, which worked excellently for picking up minute details in an environment, such as pages turning or distant footsteps. Interestingly, the sound quality of each of the pro audio recorders varied somewhat – the Zoom recordings seem slightly more crispy or tinny, picking up nearby sounds better than the Olympus, which captures near and far sounds more evenly. We didn’t use windscreens on the professional recorders during our outdoor recordings, so ironically the iPhone provided the best quality for the outdoor recordings.

As mentioned in last week’s post, walking around a space with an audio recorder makes one feel like a suspicious bystander, as one steals audio material from the public. We held the recorders fairly casually, so as not to stick out, but the professional recorders clearly don’t look like everyday objects. The ubiquity of cellphones, on the other hand, made recording with the iPhone much more covert. The audio and video recordings that are now possible with the latest smart phones, which can be of increasingly high quality, longer length, and incorporate various effects or functions (such as 10-picture burst photography), make public unauthorized surveillance extremely easy. Though this was not at all our intent in making the recordings, we couldn’t escape these inconsequential feelings of guilt, as we found ourselves considering the morality of recording in public spaces.

For sound editing, as our needs were fairly basic, we opted to use Audacity, a piece of freeware that is quite intuitive. Richard Windeyer, the Digital Dramaturgy Lab’s sound designer, ran a little workshop for us to cover our basic needs, including cutting and overlapping tracks, pitch and frequency changes, left-right channel switching, as well as minor audio effects that might possibly be useful in our editing. While editing, we outputted the audio through computer and external speakers, but we kept in mind that ultimately we were building a walking tour for a portable mp3 player or smartphone where the walker-listener would be using portable headphones or earbuds.

When we eventually tested the tracks, we were struck by the ‘two-dimensionality’ of the sound. Similar to taking a photograph, which flattens 3-dimensional space, audio recordings flatten the sound of a space, making both near and far audio material seem much closer together. It becomes difficult to distinguish between quiet sounds and distant sounds, and much of this depends on the perception or interpretation of the listener. The simple act of turning a page, for instance, is fairly quiet, and in hearing such a sound, a listener will likely assume that he or she is fairly close to the page being turned. However, it is also possible (if unlikely) that a page is being turned loudly in the distance. Such a confusion can occur in real life, but is far more likely in listening to the ‘flattened’ sound of audio recordings. Our sonic perception is significantly altered whether we listen to live or recorded sound, and recorded sound can be further distorted by the live background sounds that can be difficult to eliminate with regular headphones.

This difference in perception became one of the ways in which we play with disorienting the walker-listener. Next week, we’ll discuss the concept we devised for the audio tour, which eventually led to the on-going creation of the Ghost Variations.

The Ghost Variations – Recordings of Sound and Silence

As a group, we brought together all the spaces on campus that interested us, and devised an initial route to investigate. Our criteria was fairly open – we were just aiming for a roughly 30-60 minute walk, but this could have taken the form of a ‘micro-walk’ within a single space, such as the Fisher Library (one of our participants had suggested the possibility of meandering among the books, looking for select titles or passages); or a more traditional multi-site walk, which is what the group eventually selected. We laid out a walk that was fairly logical, but also alternated often between noisy and quiet spaces.


The route we opted for is as follows:

  • The Hart House Library
  • Corridors within the Hart House Building
  • Corridors within the University College Building
  • The Green Space in Front of the University College Building (UC Green)
  • The Chapel Inside Knox College
  • The Inner Courtyard at Knox College
  • A Short Walk up St George St from Knox College to the Fisher Library
  • The Fisher Library


Our route would begin and end within libraries, and contained different types of ‘quiet’ spaces, including the Knox Chapel, the courtyard inside Knox College (outside, but protected by stone architecture), and the UC Green, which is never completely quiet, but is still relatively peaceful, given its location in the middle of Toronto.

Once the route was mapped out, we began with a first pass through the spaces with digital recorders (in next week’s post, we’ll discuss the technological equipment we used). Spaced out by intervals of about 5-10 minutes, three of us walked through each of the spaces consecutively, recording the sounds that happened to live in them that day. We recorded about 5-6 minutes of material, which would make for a roughly 40 minute walk (8 spaces X 5 mins), and would potentially allow us to evenly intermix recordings, if that’s how we eventually decided to use them.

The experience of surreptitiously (or somewhat surreptitiously – the recorders aren’t particularly inconspicuous) recording the audio of a space is strangely transformative. The very act of holding a recorder – even if the ‘record’ function isn’t active – heightens one’s sense of the audio in a space. You immediately become aware of the slightest sonic disturbances, and are also surprised by the amount of activity that you aren’t usually registering. At various times, each of us felt the desire to bias the recorded material by moving closer or further from different sounds. We also often felt as if we were spying on others, or even stealing audio material – as if the public sounds were assumed to contain their own innate right to privacy. It recalls on-going debates around cellphone cameras, CCTV recordings, and online surveillance. Where does the boundary between private and public lie today? Home is no longer the guaranteed refuge it once was, and we increasingly behave under the assumption that someone (an authority figure or otherwise) could be listening or watching.

We will go into the details of specific spaces in future posts, but as a general introduction, the sounds we often picked up included everyday audio from footsteps and conversations, to keys jangling and papers rustling. There were also surprises, however, such as a Shakespeare lecture in the Fisher library (photo below), which killed our expectations of a silent space.


Glass walls in the Fisher Library delimit the public viewing space from the researcher’s space with the books
Taken after the initial Ghost Variations recordings, this newly exhibited copy of Shakespeare’s first folio recalls the ghostly presence of a Shakespearean scholar captured in the audio recordings.

The Ghost Variations – Introduction

This first post will introduce the Voice Exchange’s current project, which will be featured as one of the Walking Lab’s residencies.

The Voice Exchange is an artistic collective that is part of the Digital Dramaturgy Lab at the University of Toronto. We’re interested in exploring all things voice and sound through practice. Previous projects have looked at vocal exercises and the use of microphones for digital voice creation. For our latest project, the Voice Exchange is focusing on building an audio walk.

The starting point for the audio walk was fairly open. Inspiration was taken from Janet Cardiff, who works with sound, and has designed audio walks. Cardiff has used audio and narrative to warp or confuse the listener’s perception of their environment. In The Missing Voice (Case Study B), for example, the audio guide transforms the listener’s experience of a library into a detective story. Originally created in 1999 for discman, the piece can now be played on mp3 (though unfortunately the soundcloud file seems to be down). Interestingly, the original library space has been replaced by a gallery, but the audio piece can still be played. These circumstances intrigued us, and we became interested in the idea of linking a physical space (which inevitably changes over time) to a fixed digital audio file that could be downloaded in years to come. Even if a physical space doesn’t change, the sounds and voices within very well may: The University of Toronto’s Hart House building, for example, originally built in 1919, was designated and remained a men-only building until 1972. Though the buildings themselves may not have changed much, the activity within them certainly did. As a result, an audio recording of voices from the earlier men-only period would sound quite unfamiliar to current students and visitors to the building.

Given the age of its buildings, the variety of the architecture, and (of course) its proximity, the University of Toronto St. George campus was selected as the site for our tour. We began by wandering all over campus, in and out of familiar and unfamiliar buildings, to see what spaces interested us and how we might engage with them sonically. When our group returned, and we consulted notes, a common theme emerged – interest in the contrast of silent versus noisy spaces. As a major university, situated in a busy, urban environment, the University of Toronto’s downtown campus is invariably a noisy place. But even in the city, there are places of quiet refuge. The many libraries are an obvious example, but there are also religious chapels, and quiet courtyards protected by the stone architecture.

We decided to play with the idea of intermixing audio from the two types of spaces to see if we could render noisy spaces silent and silent spaces noisy, disorienting the walker/listener. Next week, we’ll discuss how these recordings went and were eventually used for our ongoing artistic creation.